Sunday, September 09, 2007

King's Academy

Its first academic year has started. This is a boarding school in Jordan modeled after Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, which King Abdullah attended. King's is coed, with teachers living in dormitories next to their students -- not exactly standard for high schools in the Middle East. The faculty and facilities are top-notch. According to the school's website, this year's students come from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, and the U.S. -- all learning, eating, playing sports, and living next to each other.

Check out the website here. I don't think it's a stretch to predict that this tiny school will, in the long run, produce more positive change in the Middle East than the trillions sunk into a policy of preventive war and occupation.

More: I respond to a pessimist in the comments section.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No students from Israel, I see.

9/10/2007 7:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the idiocy of the 1st comment (everything through the Israeli-centric looking glass, as if Israeli students would have a bloody reason to go to a 2nd rate education system - the US students are Jordanian-Americans), afraid your presumption regarding change is badly off.

Well, I'll grant the school will do more positive than a war of aggression and an utterly bungled post-war occupation, but that's such a low standard as to be risible.

Rather, mate, you seem to have a queer idea that coed and mingling is all that rare. Certainly not, at least not at the elite levels that this academy serves.

What I can guarantee you, Jordan being Jordan, is this will serve the usual suspects, and continue their rather walled off life with near zero impact on wider society - from which the usual suspect (who I may add include my good friends in Jordan, and business partners, but I don't fool myself) are already quite alienated.

Word of advice: reflexive highly secular latest cutting edge Westernisation has already seen its day in MENA - that ain't gonna change anything.

9/10/2007 10:07 AM  
Blogger The Cunning Realist said...

1. I wasn't surprised at all, but like the first commenter I idiotically noticed the lack of Israeli students.

2. "Second rate education system"? The faculty has degrees and teaching experience from the Ivy League and best prep schools in the country. The headmaster was one of the best in Deerfield Academy's long history. The chairman of the board of trustees was one of my professors at Columbia Business School, where student evaluations consistently ranked him higher than any other professor.

3. "...this will serve the usual suspects, and continue their rather walled off life." Life behind those walls must be getting a bit rough: according to the school's website, at least 30 percent of students are on full, half or quarter scholarships, and there's a growing endowment fund that will raise that percentage.

4. I too have had good Jordanian friends (with names you'd certainly recognize), and they all came from highly privileged backgrounds. I met them all while going to school in the United States. When I asked one why so many of Jordan's elite come here for their education, he told me that were no comparable schools in his home country.

5. Know hope.

9/10/2007 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But (unlike war porn) this school will do nothing for the Podhoretz's, Kagans', Gerecht's, Hansons', and Cheney erectile dysfunction, and hence it isn't really relevant.

9/10/2007 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sort of endeavor has historically born sweeter fruit for the U.S.
What it doesn't do is satisfy the testerone driven.

9/10/2007 3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Know hope?

I bloody well know the Middle East mate, and what's even better, I do venture capital in the region. Not PE, VC.

I know hope. I also know utter bollocks when I see it.

The Orthodox Academy, which I used to live next two is a rather more indigenous and real institution than this little farcical fantasy.

Knowing "hope" is great.

Knowing realism is even better mate. And change in the MENA region ain't coming from this sort of bollocks, whatever ridiculous nonsense you were sold the Rifaes and other usual suspects.

(PS: on scholarship means fuck all)

9/10/2007 4:54 PM  
Blogger The Cunning Realist said...

I await your detailed post on being hopeful and being realistic are necessarily mutually exclusive -- in the Middle East and beyond. After that, please explain how the parameters and inputs that define the venture capital business ("not PE"!) are in any way relevant to the founding of a new school. Bonus points for not using any expletives.

9/10/2007 5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or let me rephrase since I foolishly made so many typos.

Your impression as to the utility and even innovativeness of the Academy in region or even in Jordan is, well, stunningly exagerated. I used to live for several years next to a private academy of international standards that yes gave and gives scholaships... in Amman. And there are more like it. And coeducational, etc. etc.

Wealthy Jordanians study outre-mer for the snob appeal, and for the added connectedness that they get - for the reason the ultra elite throghout emerging markets do so.

This academy is, well, a waste of national resources.

Real change would come from say revamping the public system, injecting more money in basic education and helping to improve employability of the mass graduates from both basic schooling and university systems. Not more elite options that suck in the ill informed into celebrating the King because why he's making a society that I think looks like me own.

Not that Jordan performs terribly poorly, in fact its one of the best performers in the region - although stultifying bureaucracy helps choke off potential domestically. Luckily Jordan has gotten good at experting skilled labour to the Gulf and environs.

In any case, what do I know, I've only done some bloody VC investing and worked inside regional companies (not international ones mind you, not some pampered dropped in from London expat thing), know fuck all about MENA eh? Got to get me some hope. Pity, really, that the King sells this snake oil. Not that he's a bad sort, but he has the attention span of a gnat and weakness for the latest cool thing.

Thus a fine line of not successes as latest cool economic development programs.

9/10/2007 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did not see your note, but I am quite fond of explicatives really. Bourgeouis luxury.

As to the VC angle, well mate, you're in finance, what I am saying is I am a close to the ground, fingers in the dirt sort of fellow. Among the variety of items I have worked on is expansion capital from,... wait for it, semi-private education in Jordan and Leb Land, various MENA (from the East to the Farthest West to translate from the Arabic) nose-in-the-dirt work on financing and assisting start up to growth enterprises.

And not high finance - not Private Equity throwing around billions. Nope. Globally trivial. But I bloody well do know what the grass roots of most of the "labour rich, resource poor" Arab world looks like.

A good decade of this.

So, my observation to you is that realism is that first "change" in terms of something useful for addressing the fundamental frustration that I see on the ground is best achieved by creating mass opportunity.

Not by yet another bloody elite school forming yet more elite English speaking grew-up just like the Kingy in Very English or Very American enviros, and thus lacking real street cred. Bloody hell man, I speak better bloody formal Arabic off the cuff than the bloody Jordanian King (of course he speaks better formal English than I, thus rendering our positions ironic).

That gets him fuck all for street cred, indeed quite the opposite. These academies and the like play to what people in London and NY think the MENA region is.

What it really needs is less of this Highly Media Worthy, Anglo and American Blogger whanking on about it action, and rather more technical schools, rather less elite end traing and rather more basic education, and rather more in the provinces. Stuff that will prove useful for the bloody Bedoine rotters for whom Co Ed education is an alien and laughable thought, but who can bloody well - male and female - profit from having an angle at being able to generate some proper income in a market economy. Ah yeah, and less of the King's Palace cronies with the fancy degrees and Tom Friedman coffee breaks to let him know how Flat the World is - between extorting the poor Bedou bastard out of his start up trucking company....

There's me realism amigo. And my hope is a bit less starry eyed King slop, and a bit more on the ground liberalisation may do a trick of two.

9/10/2007 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don't understand all the hope placed in a boarding school. Need I remind you of Andover's most famous graduate?

9/10/2007 7:16 PM  
Blogger Vercules said...

The Deerfield Jordan Academy has to be one of the best things to happen in the ME in recent memory.

9/10/2007 11:18 PM  
Blogger The Cunning Realist said...

That's more like it, Vercules. I don't think I've deleted more than a couple of comments over the past 2+ years, but ad hominem trolling about your faithful blogger gets a swift response.

9/10/2007 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Lounsbury makes a pretty strong case, Realist.

I've been to Jordan too, and there's not really a shortage of English-speaking secular westernized elites. Nor does it seem like a few more will make much difference.

How say you?

Doug M.

9/11/2007 3:46 AM  
Blogger Vercules said...

Sorry TCR.
I didn't think it was that bad.

Was inteneded tounge in cheek. :-)

You know I love your blog. :-)

9/11/2007 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A note to retract one statement.

I said above that the Academy is a waste of national resources.

Let me modify that. Jordan as a fairly decent (although yes, second rate relative to what Israel has, ergo my utter puzzlement at the idea that Israelis would go there.... leaving aside the security issue, transport issue, etc - but more on that in a second) educational infrastructure.

To the extent there is unmet Snob Demand in the Gulf for secular, Westernish education a la this Academy and to the extent the Gulfies can pay through the nose for such education, the Academy makes sense as a vehicle to help develop one of the national strategies - leveraging that educational infrastructure to teach for profit the wealthy Gulf population (whether Gulfies or Jordanian expats working for near Western salaries in the Gulf).

I personally worked on some investment proposals - venture start up type investments - several years ago. We pulled out as time was not ripe and there are serious concerns about stealing talent, etc.

But if one can afford to charge high tuition, have a semi-social angle and pull in Gulf money for Gulfies who want a "liberal but not too liberal" environment, as well as Levantine expats in the Gulf looking to have their kids get an education outside Gulf Bizarro Land....

Well, then there might be positive returns, both "social" and economic.

But transformation and hope, sorry mate, that's utter bollocks pimped by the Palace and the type of Jordanians that feed Tom Friedman his latest insights (among whom I count some friends, but one can't trust their obs to be frank).

9/11/2007 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be negative, but my understanding is that the whole point of prep schools in New England was to exclude the grasping middle class back in the 1920s and 1930s. That was why they evolved the way they did pre- and post-WWII. The addition of scholarship kids and ABC kids and other was a post 1970s thing that was, at least when I was at Deerfield in the late '80s, rather actively resisted by the other kids. If the Academy functions the same way as Deerfield, it will help solidify the control of the semi-hereditary upper middle class, in sort of a Latin American way. But of course, I was seeing Deerfield through the eyes of one of Latin America's luckier souls, so I may be reaching in my analysis.

And as to the quality of the headmaster, you wouldn't have to do much to beat out ol' Bobby K AKA "The Toucan." I sure didn't find him that impressive. Hopefully this fellow was considerably better.

In my later life, I have worked a lot with Turks and in Turkey, and there seems to be a continuum there between the hopeless poverty and a middle class similar to where I grew up, where there was an actual transition to a middle class of sorts, and then to the rich. Most of the ME seems to lack the larger Turkish upper lower classes, the lower middle class, and then the middle class. The posibility of being eventually able to bridge the gap can keep a lid on a lot of angry people, and continues to do so in Latin America and to a degree in Turkey. In the rest of the ME, I would have to agree with the lounsbury fellow about the resources being better spent trying to benefit the economic structure of the society as a whole (or even -- horrors -- enforcing contract law equally).

I would like to be optomistic, but the thing that allowed my father to retire most of his guards over the last ten years back home was currency stability for the poor and a good economy, not better education for the sort of people who need armed guards.

9/13/2007 4:19 PM  
Blogger Ulla said...

Arabic countries have a few top-notch hospitals, too, which, of course, isn't a bad thing in itself. But generally speaking, they would get more for their money it they spent it on simple schools and health clinics in the poorer, rural areas. A lot of children die or grow up illiterate in the arab countries for this very reason.

9/23/2007 5:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a student at Deerfield Academy class of 2010 who will be attending Kings Academy next year for a SYA. I am actually at the school right now and i have been here when the school has been running. I have seen Saudis befriending Americans and students from Palestine hanging out with students from Kuwait. It what other way could this have been done. The fact is, Kings Academy will bring this countries together in ways that have yet to be seen. The future generations leaders have possibilities of being close friends. How is this not a giant leap in the right direction.

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